BACKGROUND: james martin + co (jm+co) is an information technology company that is helping organizations succeed by creating business value through the innovative application of technology. Privately held, with offices in more than 20 locations worldwide, its clients include major organizations in financial services, utilities, supply chain/distribution and government. By leveraging new technologies and creative software solutions, james martin + co is pioneering the development of "cybercorps" ­ business optimized for the world of cyberspace.

PLATFORMS: Windows NT 4.0 server with Windows clients; hardware is HP servers with Intel processors.

PROBLEM SOLVED: Until recently, the company had separately managed its global operations through three distinct business units: North America, Asia and Europe. In early 1998, jm+co's senior leadership team concluded that the company's rapid growth and increasing information needs required a major shift in its management and approach, including the implementation of monthly worldwide financial consolidation and management reporting analysis. Charged with developing a worldwide financial reporting system, we needed to have monthly, consolidated financial results using U.S. accounting rules to manage the business properly. In conjunction with this effort, we also developed key performance metrics to manage the business. Consolidation was a natural element of this overall process.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Using Comshare FDC, we are able to produce reliable monthly financial information on a worldwide, consolidated basis with a view toward the future. We plan to use FDC for forecasting and "flash reporting" using preliminary month-end results and metrics. When we add a budgeting module, there will be a great deal of "what-if" analysis, including possible acquisitions.

STRENGTHS: Our CEO said the information we get from FDC is much better than we've ever gotten before. We're just starting to tap what we can do. For example, I can use FDC to analyze the impact of foreign exchange, which is not inconsequential for a company like jm+co. FDC gives us much better insight into what is going on in the business. Statutory reporting requirements aside, identifying and reacting to key business issues and trends is a critical success factor for our company.

WEAKNESSES: The Btrieve database is not as powerful as an Oracle or SQL Server solution, and it is somewhat slow to process data. In addition, it requires a special hardware investment. However, the latest version of FDC addresses some of these problems and reduces processing time significantly.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Our auditor, Deloitte & Touche LLP, has experience in implementing consolidation and reporting packages for service firms such as ours. They understood our requirements and suggested we evaluate Comshare FDC. Because FDC has a schedule-based design, it was easy for us to emulate our current paper-based process. The software has the robustness and functionality that jm+co needs.

DELIVERABLES: FDC's functionality and big picture view is unmatched by earlier systems. Prior to FDC, jm+ co produced consolidated financial statements only once a year. The reporting package was at a very high level and provided very limited insight into what was really happening in the business. The first time we consolidated using FDC, we had a great deal more data and detail at our fingertips. FDC reduces jm+co's consolidation time by 50 percent. I have set a goal to reduce our three to four month consolidation process to 16 days, all with FDC. Ultimately, because of FDC, we use our resources more efficiently on matters of greater urgency to the business. There is more time for analysis and less spent on data crunching. We have more insight into how our business is running on a monthly basis. As part of our overall implementation of performance metrics and consolidated data, we can spot problems and opportunities much faster. Just as importantly, we can meet our reporting obligations to our board and other stakeholders in the company, even though we are privately owned.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Our Comshare sales representative is a very knowledgeable person. He calls us periodically to make sure we're a satisfied customer.

DOCUMENTATION: FDC's on-line user help is very good. We use this function quite regularly and find it very worthwhile. Although the documentation itself might not be sufficient to get a new user started, james martin + co hired consulting firm Deloitte & Touche to integrate the product.

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